Brookfield Scouting - How High Will Your Son Climb?

posted Jul 18, 2015, 2:50 PM by Dave Collins   [ updated Oct 2, 2015, 6:04 PM ]

Alex Calder proudly displays his Eagle emblem at the top of North America

Alaska’s Mount McKinley, located within Denali National Park and Preserve, is the highest mountain on the North American continent. Measured from the 2,000-foot lowlands to its snowy summit at 20,320 feet, the mountain’s vertical relief of 18,000 feet is greater than that of Mount Everest or any of the Seven Summits. Due to the mountain’s far northern latitude of 63 degrees and lower barometric pressure, the peak has less oxygen at its summit than mountains of comparable height closer to the equator, climbing more like a 22,000-foot peak

More than two years ago, Alex Calder (Troop 135, Brookfield, CT) and Jeff Rogers, his friend from UMASS, began envisioning a monumental ascent, choosing what the native Koyukon Athabascan people call Denali, meaning “The High One.” They trained for the climb by completing New Hampshire’s Presidential Traverse in the cruelest of winter weather, sleeping in -30F temperatures, skiing Tuckerman’s Ravine at night by headlamps, running stadium stairs with 40 pound backpacks for endurance and longevity physical conditioning, studying Denali’s mountaineering statistics, researching, selecting and maintaining gear and equipment, and having fun while doing it.

Alex and Jeff insisted on climbing without the aid of guiding companies, certain they would get much more out of the experience if a guide did not hold their hand every step of the way. There is no doubt Alex's training on the road to Eagle helped to prepare him for the challenge. About 1,200 people per year take on the challenge, most during the climbing season of May through July. On average, only 50% reach the summit and over 100 climbers have died on the mountain.

On day 15, with a strong high-pressure front moving into the Alaska Range, Jeff and Alex received the weather window they needed for a summit attempt. Starting from 14,200 feet at 4 a.m. AKST, the climbers reached the final corniced ridge to the summit at 20,320 feet Saturday, May 30, 2015 at 4:01 p.m. AKST .Eagle Scout emblem waving, the men savored the pinnacle, and then returned to camp at 14,200 feet. Three days earlier, only one climber on record had summited in 2015. The alpine glow on Mount McKinley resonated with the men, capping a two-year dream, the sweet victory reaped from the arduous journey to the top of North America.

In his own words Alex reflects on how the scouting experience impacted his life and goals...

Climbing the tallest mountain in North America is not a challenge that one simply stumbles into. Long before the two-years of intense physical and mental training for the climb, I had been unknowingly honing my skills for the challenge right here in Brookfield. On camping trips with Troop 135 I was taught not only how to survive on a camping trip but to be comfortable while doing it- lessons that were passed down by older scouts just as much as the leaders.

When winter rolled around, my dad and I took a trip to Campmor and we picked up my first 5 ºF synthetic sleeping bag which I still own today. Every month I would head out into the woods with Troop 135 to face winter head on. Climbing Denali is sometimes described as winter camping your way up the side of a mountain. Every year climbers come to Denali unprepared for the reality of spending 19 or more days camping in a sub-freezing environment. For me, it seemed like second nature. I learned the tough lessons (like the fact that Nalgene’s freeze if you don’t sleep with them) years before the climb with Troop 135. And I learned them when it was safe to do so- with a reliable group of leaders and the warmth of a car, building, or fire close by.

Countless other scouting experiences have helped me along my journey. The experience of managing Troop 135’s equipment as a Quarter Master helped me manage the 270+lbs of food, fuel, and equipment our two-man team carried on Denali. On countless Troop 135 backpacking trips (including trips to the White Mountains, our training ground for Denali), I learned about the perseverance required to finish a difficult hike. Completing an Eagle Scout project is very similar to expedition planning (I have enormous Excel spreadsheets on my computer from both experiences).

Beyond the foundational skills I learned in Boy Scouts, my experiences helped me discover something about myself- my desire to take on big goals in the mountains. Not everybody can say that they have discovered a true passion for something. I am grateful that scouting and Troop 135 helped me discover one of mine at the age of 22.